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How to go night fishing: strategies, kit, baits and lures

How to go night fishing
Some species are easier to catch at night (Image credit: Getty)

Fishing in the daylight hours is one thing, but it takes a bit more skill and confidence to dial in the night bite. However, with a few simple strategies and essential items of kit, even if you’re a beginner it’s pretty easy to get started.

When you're thinking about how to go night fishing, it's worth putting in a bit of extra effort because lots of species feed freely in low light conditions and at night. That means your catches can be exceptional. Different species also feed that you might not have caught or seen before – who knows, you might encounter a few surprises or that elusive giant.   

So, let’s talk about the 'how to go night fishing' basics, and what you need to think about to be successful in freshwater or saltwater after dark. As always, preparation and having the right equipment are key.

Get a good head lamp

Knowing how to plan a fishing trip is always important, but when you’re fishing after dark, preparation becomes even more vital. Fumbling around aimlessly in the dead of the night with lures, hooks and a knife doesn’t sound like the smartest or safest thing to do, so making sure you’re prepared is the first task!

The most important thing you should do is make sure you have a good quality head lamp and some back-up batteries. There are lots of USB-rechargeable models available to suit all budgets (check out Advnture's guide to the best head lamps you can buy), and you’ll appreciate the powerful LED beams on modern head lamps plus the easy, environmentally-friendly aspect of not using disposable batteries.

Be prepared

Take the time to rig up your rods and organize your tackle prior to your outing. Rigging up in the dark, even with a head lamp, can be a little tricky so just save yourself the hassle and rig up before you go. If it’s going to be cold, dress accordingly (check the forecast, wind and chance of rain) and if you’re on a boat, make sure to bring your life vests and carry something to signal with like a whistle.

Using a small glow stick (the long, thin kind you ‘snap’ to activate) on a little clip to light up the tip of your rod or rods can help for orientation as well as overall awareness. Another trick if fishing statically is to use a small torch strapped to your rod rest or sand spike – a USB-rechargeable model with a focusable beam allows you to illuminate the rod without being too bright and ruining your night vision. If you can’t see your rods, you run the risk of losing not only fish, but gear too!

Safety first

Bring some water and some snacks if you need them and make sure to tell someone where you’re going just to be safe. If you can, bring a friend or a fishing buddy. It’s safer, more fun, and much more convenient when you have someone else there fishing with you.

Don't wait until it's dark

It's quite helpful to arrive at your spot while there’s still some daylight as you won’t have to go through the trouble of navigation or set-up in the dark. It’s also useful to spot evidence of fish activity in daylight to know where to fish and cast; maybe it’s a trout rising, a carp bubbling, bass striking at prey in freshwater, or some bait fish and bird activity in the ocean.

How to go night fishing

Lights can improve your odds when night fishing (Image credit: Getty)

Don't underestimate the importance of lights

An essential thing to remember when considering how to go night fishing is that it’s important to make the proper adjustments and use different tactics. One tactic that can increase your odds when night fishing from a pier, dock, or boat is the use of lights. We’re not talking about head lamps, but lights that can be either submerged or shined on the water’s surface.

If you’ve ever walked along lake-piers or docks at night, you might have seen little schools of minnows swimming nearby the lights underneath the pier or dock. There’s a reason for this. Plankton and similar organisms as well as insects are attracted to the lights which draw in smaller fish, eventually leading to predatory fish like bass, catfish and others on the prowl.

This tactic is most commonly used when fishing lakes whether it’s from a dock, pier or boat and even sometimes in saltwater. For example, fishing deep water for species like swordfish involves putting lots of extra lights on the line to help attract fish.

Think about your lures and baits

Another key factor to consider is your bait or lure selection. When you’re fishing with lures at night, keep a few things in mind. Work lures that produce a lot of movement and noise. Spinners, spinnerbaits and chatterbaits are great in clear waters and topwater lures are an awesome choice for murky water with all the noise and splashes they produce on the surface.

Night fishing in the surf can make for some really productive fishing too, but it’s important to note that the surface sound when lure fishing isn’t as important in the surf because there’s so much noise to compete with. If you’re throwing lures, stay away from topwater and use glow-in-the-dark lures that dive at least a couple feet.

Live and local bait is always a good option and you really can’t go wrong when the bait does the work for you. But, sometimes we aren’t afforded that luxury. Depending on your style of fishing, scent can play a huge role in night fishing. Remember, the factor of visual presentation is vastly diminished with night fishing.

For salt water, cut bait, squid, bait fish (sardines, mackerel, herring, bonito etc) and other similar baits are great options! The fresher the better, too. If you can catch a smaller fish and cut that up to use as bait, you’ll be matching the local food items and that’ll increase your chances of a bite. Remember to follow any local bylaws and regulations about night fishing and what species you can keep or target.

For fresh water, the majority of fishermen will lean towards artificials like spinners, poppers and artificial worms, but you can’t deny the productivity of live worms. From nightcrawlers and red wigglers, to waxworms and mealworms, there isn’t much out there that can match the reputation of fishing with live worms at night for a mix of species including bass, catfish, crappie and trout.